Any conversation about self-care, relationship-building, parenting and education eventually arrives at the same place: screen time.
How much time do we actually spend staring at our gadgets, and how does it affect us, our families, and our relationships with others? And, most importantly, how do we unplug, reset, and recenter ourselves in our children’s lives, especially in an on-the-go society that values doing over being?
Screen time by the numbers
Studies across the board show that we’re more plugged in than ever before.
According to Common Sense Media, Children up to 8 years old consume, on average, 2 hours and 19 minutes of digital media (mostly TV and videos) every day. (Source: Common Sense Media)
A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that Children between the ages of 8 and 18 consume an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes of digital media daily.
Nielsen Company found that American adults spend more than 10 hours each day consuming digital media – and that number is only growing.
How screen time affects you and your children
In a 2017 study by Common Sense Media, 70 percent of parents said they were concerned about how much screen time their children get – and with good cause. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, excessive kids’ screen time increases the risk of obesity, sleep issues, negative academic performance and cyberbullying in teens and children.
And adults aren’t any less at risk. Whether we’re online for work or play, if we don’t set careful time limits, the average American’s hours of screen use can strain our vision, affect our posture, disturb our sleep, lead to addiction behaviors and increase our risk for obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, reports health organization Rally Health. It can even lead to depression and suicide risk.
How unplugging can set you free
Fortunately, the most life-changing step is in your hands: Step away from the screen.
“The work week [is 40] hours, sleep at seven hours a night is 49, and if we assume all personal care -- such as eating, bathing, dressing, preparing food -- is three hours a day, then we have 58 hours a week left over for all other things," Iowa State psychology professor Douglas Gentile told CNN.
You may not be able to set limits on screen time at work, but you do have the power to determine the amount of time you spend online in your free time.
So buckle up and put down the iPad – here are some ways to make those 58 hours count.
1. Reconnect with nature
It’s not enough to just limit screen time. Make unplugged time a family celebration for you and your children as you reconnect with the natural world around you. Project Learning Tree praises benefits of outdoor education on growing minds, including improved health, focus and cognition and student leadership qualities. And on the adult side, getting outside can improve our health, up Vitamin D intake, increase brain function, and even help us age more gracefully.
Get outside together with a trip to a park, zoo or nature trail – and for the young ones, bring in an extra dimension of environmental learning with a subscription to THiNK OUTSiDE. This adventure-bound box for 7-year-olds and up was designed by parents who want children to be more confident outdoors, and includes a lightweight backpack to get kids on the go.
3. Make something by hand
Ditch the phone and build the fun, real-world rituals that bring you and your children, friends and loved ones together face-to-face. Hands-on activities like crafts are proven to improve fine motor skills in children, plus celebrate self-expression and imagination and relieve stress in kids and adults.
The fun and adorable Craft + Boogie box is a great way to turn family night into a creative bonanza. Each monthly delivery comes with 3-4 age-appropriate crafts, plus family games, themed snack recipes and more that make it extra easy to leave the Xbox behind. Get crafting!
4. Think world-wide, not web
In theory, our global connectivity should make us into better world citizens by exposing us to new ideas and cultures. In practice, most of us end up in online echo chambers – tailoring our feeds (both intentionally and unconsciously, through algorithms) so that we hear the news we’re mostly likely to already believe and agree with. This habit, warns MIT researchers Marshall van Alstyne and Erik Brynjolffson, “may be harmful to the structure of democratic societies as well as decentralized organizations.”
5. Step away from social media -- spend face time with friends and family
When we’re feeling bored or lonely, it’s easy to turn to social media for a quick pick-me-up. And of course, what better way to establish a sense of connection than to ping an old friend or see where your cousin went on vacation?
Actually, says Psychology Today, there are lots of better alternatives – and that social media habit isn’t just taking time away from your real-life family and friends. It’s actively making you lonelier. Plus, the fear of missing out that drives you to constantly log in and check for updates makes you more anxious and disrupts your sleep.If social media use and screen time have become part of your family’s evening routine, the habit can be hard to break. And even once you’ve managed to tear yourself away from Facebook (seriously, the 41 photos of Becky’s new haircut aren’t going to be that fulfilling), you’ve got to face up to the task of coaxing the kids to put down their own video games and iPhones for family time.
It can seem daunting, but the rewards of disconnecting for a focused night with family and friends are good as gold. Parenting blog Mommy University notes that the benefits of family game nights include developing strong character, promoting problem-solving, creating family traditions and enhancing academic skills related to cognition and communications. And for players of all ages, game nights reduce stress, provide a space for intellectual play and create a positive outlet to funnel energy into.
6. Start your own screen-free gaming tradition
Take the time to pick out everyone’s favorite snacks (or make some together!) and then settle in for a night of face-forward fun. Visit your local game store for recommendations, or check your library to see what they have on offer. Or, let a specially curated monthly subscription take the reins.
For family night, check out the aptly named Together Unplugged, stuffed with unique games, jigsaw puzzles, conversation starters like Mad Libs and more. Or, for adults and other family friends, try an at-home escape room-style subscription like Deadbolt Mystery Society: Each monthly box contains a stand-alone mystery and all the puzzles and clues needed to unlock it.